Usually my day use to end with the peaceful air that puts an end to my random thoughts and gets me to sleep. But today the things were not the same.
I never get tired by my work as I enjoy it to the fullest. As a high school teacher I have always kept myself challenged with new students every session, students who can't talk, students who can't understand your words, students who are different socially, physically and mentally.
Apart from giving a meaning to my life of a widow orphan, these boys have helped me understand the earthy phenomenon of something has to replace another for equalizing the total balance in the nature. In the school my day starts with Saraswati gaan. We offer prayers and then start with the morning session of few lessons on personal behavior followed by breakfast, counseling sessions with doctors, lunch, craft time concluding the day with refreshment and play time. I take my kids to the church to attend evening prayers. Students are served with food; thereafter putting them to bed I take lessons on psychology. Then thinking of a new day I let myself sleep a while.
Today, its half past three and there isn't any sign of sleep. Whole night I kept thinking of the little girl I met today. The smile was innocent, eyes were demanding, small hands calling for a hug; all in all she looked normal at first sight. I kept wondering what was the problem with her, why was she at a place like this, where we only fight abnormalities.
It was Mr. Shah who uncovered it. The girl was seeking attention, mental help and her busy parents didn't know where to seek help. That's how this angel had come to us as Mrs. Shah had already promised her mother to help take care of the child, when she was in Delhi attending a family function.
With ease Mr. Shah handed her responsibility to Varia, who is a female staff and I hold minimal respect for her due to her negligence when being with students. Varia was appointed the five year old Mabel's nanny.
I wasn't restless only for this fact, but also that it was a boy's school and was not sure where it was advisable to have a girl student enroll for the activities and session we carry out for boys. Also, she had no sign of abnormalities, she spoke as fluent as any one of us, she had a good vision, and she could recognize things and people and also knew about personal hygiene and seemed to be mannered. Nothing in her disturbed me but the very fact of her being here.
I decided to speak to Mr. Shah, the first thing in morning. It was 5 am in the wrist band gifted to me by my husband, an year after our marriage.
I freshened up and rushed to the prayer hall. I was already late but still could not miss the sight of Varia talking to a man at the end of the corridor, generally its dark there and hardly any one of us use it except the cook and others from catering department as the last room to be used as a food godown. Although, didn't pay much attention to the act, I some how sensed it to be fishy.
I entered the room, the prayer had already started, first time in years that I was late……
After the prayers, I looked for the angel, Mabel. She wasn't here. It did siren me. I wanted to talk to Mr. Shah but as of now I put the thought aside Mabel. I went up to her room just to find that she wasn't there. I checked with Leela on the way, the maid. She informed me of Mabel being taken to the psychic test room to meet Aradhana.
Aradhana is not just a friend but my only life support here. Whenever I get depressed with any of my kid's suffering, I go and talk to her. She has the magic to heal. Though I was soothed by the information, I wanted to see Mabel once, by own. I knew I will keep restless till I see her.
I knocked on the door that read Aradhana Shastri, PhD Psychology. Aradhana replied, "Come in". Seeing me enter the room with apprehension on my face, I had least to express in words. I almost shouted, "Where is the girl, I mean Mabel?". Before even waiting for the reply I was about to say something more when the sweet laugh poured into my ears. It was her, lying on the bean bag with a doll. She was still laughing; she looked like a true fairy tale princess, with the pink fur frock on. I kneeled to her and caressed her cheek. She spoke, spoke to me for the first time, "Even I shout at my daughter the same way when she hides from me, she is stubborn sometime, I understand". "Daughter", I asked and she jumped across the bag and ran through the side door that opens into the garden. I could not believe those were her words, so grown-up and sensible.
I turned to Aradhana, she was smiling at me. Aradhana: "Would you like some coffee". I nodded. She was explaining: "I know what you are thinking and I want you to stop thinking that ways. I am sorry but I wish, I could tell you that she was normal. We have undertaken the first test but I know that the results are likely to be on the negative side. I cannot comment on actually disorder this girl has but its no the usual one for sure. She will require a lot of attention, daily sessions and may be more than what we can think of now. "What's her problem"? "Hmm, her major problem is that she seems to be normal." I could sense nothing out of it, it just made me look at Mabel for the last time before she could be taken for her next test lined up.
Mr. Shah liked me a lot; I was like a daughter to him. He had started this school out of self pain of loosing his only son at the age of eight due to an aliment, OSA. Obstructed Sleep Apnea. Being a retarded child, it was always difficult for him to stay with it and then one night he suffered with a fatal lung failure. I owe Mr. Shah a lot of respect to do so much for the children, may be something that he could not do for his. He was married for 23yrs now and Mrs. Shah, Nandini never complain of not having any more kids and sharing his attention with the school. He worked as if it was his last day. Nandu, as she was called by him was indeed a strong pillar for him. She was respected everywhere for the humbleness, courtesy and friendly and caring nature she owned. She helped us with the school chores and was also a socialite. She attended meetings with big shots, seminars, Medical meet etc. It was one of this meets that she made friends with Mabel's mother. She meant a lot to Mr. Shah to disrespect her promise made to Mabel's mum.
When I entered Mr. Shah's office he was busy working on his computer. He waved me to sit down. He was reading me aloud, "Many diseases are silent killers in that they are silent (no symptoms or only vague symptoms), and that they are deadly. There are a number of diseases that are known as "silent killers" because they gradually consume you without causing any serious symptoms in the early stages. Regular medical checkups and early diagnosis of unexplained or vague symptoms can safe your life".
He looked at me, may be to check for the affect. I asked," Is it about Mabel?" but honestly wasn't waiting for a reply and he didn't reply.
I had no courage to discuss the issue further. I some how managed to put it this way," If u don't mind uncle, can I take Mabel's responsibility?" "Do you have issues with Varia doing it? I sensed you having problem with her but let me assure you she is not all that bad. You can relax with this one; you have a lot more to do these days. I don't want to burden you any more at least till needed".
"With the responsibilities I have you think I won't be able to handle this?" "No my child, never think that I have slightest doubt about you being capable of it but can we talk on this later, lets push it at least till her results come in".
"I have a session to deliver, will meet you for dinner Uncle, bye". Not much I could do as of now.
"Good morning Kids, how are you these morning". And like every day they all struggled to reply, Gggdmrrrrrrr…..iinnggghhh, this is their usual reply. Some of them have improved though.
Today we are going to learn to garden. I wanted to be in fresh air. The aura here was suffocating. May be some fresh air could give me some peace.
I walked them through the garden where the nursery was and came to a plot which was ploughed by Raghu, our Gardner. Raghu had already arranged for some plants from the nursery, few seeds, water shower and gloves. He is generally perfect with his work almost 9 out of 10 times.
"So kids, how do u all feel? Does everyone know what we are going to do today?" And they nodded as usual to say NO and few to say YES.
Students who nodded with assent, I asked one of them, "Rajiv, tell me what are we going to do in this garden today?" He auctioned, "We will play in mud", "Next"." We will play hide and seek" "We will eat plants", "We will, we will….", "We will lie down", "We will start life", "We will…………"
"What, Abhi, come again". "We will start life" and he smiled. Abhi is the sharpest and a unique student. He usually speaks up things that we normals hardly even think of. As many other times I was impressed by his wit. "Yes, you are absolutely correct; we will plant these seeds and plants and see them grow in next few days".
I had by now become an expert in sign language, unlike the signs used for deaf and dumb kids; here we have trained our kids and faculty in sign language which is supposedly a level above the traditional sign language. Using it they can't even interact with challenged one but also normal people who are ready to listen to them. It has made the interactions very effortless.
Some looked confused, and my job was to make them understand. This wasn't very difficult. These kids have always been close to nature and life - They have being in soil.
I was meeting Mabel today. She looked bit at unrest yesterday. I had to take a special permission from Mr. Shah. He wasn't keen at it though. He warned me to keep it simple with her.
I knocked the door; Varia opened it for me, stared and went out, locking it behind. She was sitting there with her books open. I guess she was reading something. I could do more than pulling a chair besides her. She kept doing what she was without paying attention to me. I wanted to ask but the words beeped in my mind "keep it simple with her.", and I slowed.
After minutes she spoke, "What do you want aunty". As if I was waiting," Why are you here"? I repented on my foolishness, how this little girl could know about why at all is she here. Silly me.
Just wanting to make small talks I asked her "What do you like the most". She replied, "My brooch, I love it more than anything. I will keep it with me all the time".
I smiled and she said; "My mother wants me but my dad doesn't, and in every fight dad wins" and she was back to reading. "Oh, what makes you think like that". She smiled as if she knew what I didn't. I changed the topic. "How do you find this place, do you feel at home here". "Better, at least no one thinks of me being a murderer".
She was in tears, and I held her close. I wanted to know more, wanted to help her but at that moment I just wanted one thing, be by her side and comfort her. I kept patting her till she was mum.
"Will you have dinner with me tonight", I asked. "Am I allowed to?" Strange, I thought of it and then said "Yes, my dear"
Mr. Shah" How was the meet, are you happy or still upset with your uncle".
"There is no question of being upset with you. I just don't understand why I am not included/ involved when you do it always. May be I lack your trust." I could see the guilt in his eyes
"I will tell you everything when the right time comes".
"I think it is the right time"
"You won't be able to understand"
"Why do you want to know after all?"
"From the day she has come everyone is bothered about her. There is chilled air when its about her. You have not bothered about the kids for days now. This is all very strange. If she holds that importance, I think I need to know as I am a part of this school. Don't I have the right to?"
"Hello Sir, I am sorry to disturb but Jack has come to see you. He says it's urgent."
"Excuse me, we can continue this later"
And he hurried up. Who is this Jack, never heard of him?
"She is so young to be treated like this. No, Never. I can't let this happen in my custody."
"You knew this was going to happen. What is wrong with you? You behave as if this is news to you."
"Can't we wait for few more days? May be things get sorted by then. If this doesn't happen now, we all will be in a big trouble & you are no excuse for even you are a part of this game now. We all will be trapped, try to understand Mr. Shah. We wouldn't have hurried if this wasn't the matter of life and death. You never know if we are been watched, we can not risk it further."
"I hope we all understand what we have got ourselves into, well I will see what I can do, I need time to plan"
I don't know if they are been watched but now I am going to watch out for everything they do, I decided hiding beneath the window in shrubs.
What is this going on here? Is this girl in danger? What are they trying to do with her? Is she ill or people around me are sick? And above all how do I come to know about it.
I had all the questions but no answer. I had to protect her no matter what.
How? And I started exploiting my grey cells, haven't used them for years now for such critical fixation. My well settled life had given them the liberty to be at their wish, but now I was asking their help, and they were, after a brief hesitation.
I now framed a bit of what I call my part of the cake/ puzzle.
The girl has come : she doesn't seem abnormal at all, and if she is, her family looks well off, can treat her at any damn part of the globe but then they get her here, to some long time friends husband's school for the treatment. Strange.
This doesn't seem all that strange when Dr Aradhana unveils the reports that she has some problem which they are yet to figure out, may be a lie enough to restrain from letting me know.
Mr. Shah, who was always a personality to vouch by is now behaving odd. My guess says he knows the truth. If not wrong, he is behind all this or at least plays a major role in whatever is happening and more which is going to happen. That too very soon.
I need to figure this out ASAP. Sitting here in a dump won't help; need to move out to get a clue. But where to……………
I thought of checking Mabel's belongings, I didn't see any when she had arrived. I presume it was send to the hostel; before she came in. I moved towards her room ensuring that no one sees me. It was dreadfully dark outside, could just hear buzzing sound, the night insects. When I came close to her room it was something that wasn't right there. I tried to push the door gently, it was locked from inside. No lights on, was strange as Varia is scared of dark, she generally keeps at least one weak light on. It hit me but that wasn't so much to think of as she might have turned off lights for Mabel.
I wanted to check in though but then I heard a soft noise coming from the other end of the corridor. I slowly moved towards the noise source. Ah! It was Mr. Shah and Jack talking in soft voice.
Mr. Shah looked very upset and also agitated at the same time, just about to cry. He was saying "What! How did this happen, I should have thought about it earlier. This is entirely my fault"
Jack: "Sir, I know this wasn't expected, but we have no choice left"
"Everyone will come to know about what is happening here, we cannot afford to take any further risk, I want this to be done at the earliest"
Jack: "I will make the arrangement ASAP. You get the girl. We have to do it tonight"
The bells started ringing, what is their plan. I then saw Mr. Shah getting into Mabel's room, when he came out he was shouldering the little girl with a coverlet. He took her to his office, I followed. He put her on the couch and called somebody. I could not get who was he calling and what did he talk but he looked furthermore tensed after that.
I guess his tension had given me way to help the kid out of this. I could see his strained face clearly when he light a cigarette. He went out of the room to finish the cigarette. I saw him moving towards the end of the corridor, may be he was waiting for Jack. This was my only chance. I didn't think much. Went in the room, the door was left open, picked the girl she was asleep. I did not know where to go, but had to. Before anyone of them came to know I had to get out of this place. By chance while getting out I saw Mr. Shah's coat kept hanging by the door side. I knew where he kept his car keys, searched the pockets and was lucky to get the keys. I then rushed out towards the garage where the car was kept.
Next thing I realized that I was driving out of the school at the maximum speed I could. It was like some force who was making me do it all with ease.
The more I thought more was the jerk in my mind. At this point of time I could think of going somewhere is my friends place. I have known Ram for 18yrs now. He has helped me in thick and thin. He knew my husband and that's how I met Kunal, fell in love and married him. That ways I owe Ram the best years of my life. He supported my education once I was asked to move out of the orphanage on my 18th birthday. He is son of the owner of 'CraftHouse', who bought all our work and helped us girls earn some worth, good enough to buy little necessities (which wasn't provided by the orphanage management) and also gifts for the dear ones. When I was asked to carry on, Ram had asked his dad to employee me as the store girl. I worked there and stayed in the godown. When Ram finished his high school and was joining college, he asked me to join the college too. Money was the issue, which was taken care by him. He got me a student to tuition, he himself. Hmmm
He got married and is father to Reema, the little wonder. She is the best thing ever happened to him, after his wife's death in delivering the kid, Reema is has been the only inspiration for him to survive. He is gem of a person and that's why I think God has gifted him a child like Reema. She is 3yrs old now, about to join the school.
He is not only my best friend but means the world to me.
I switched off the ignition and stepped out. I had already ringed the bell twice. I should have called him before coming, I always do but this time had no scope for that. I wondered if he isn't in the house. For the third time, I rang and then could hear footsteps approaching the door. The door opened that got me some relief. Ram was standing in front of me surprised to see me at this time.
With Mabel in my arms all I said was, "Let us in, will explain everything".
Coffee was very soothing, specially to ease off the death-defying drive we had. A minute error could have proved fatal. I was trying to come out of the phase when Ram's word came up, "What is happening, will you tell me for God sake, who is this girl, and what are you up to"?
"Wait Ram, let me answer all your questions one by one".
"She is Mabel, the girl I spoke to you about". "Oh yes, so what is up with her, what is she doing in here with you"
"I think, things are wrong in the school. I have smelled conspiracy against Mabel. I think they want to kill her"
Ram shouted "Kill her"
"Shhhh, will you keep low, the girl is sleeping"
"Oh, am sorry. Ya go on"
I think we should lie her down in the bedroom. "Let me take her to Reema's room"
Ram locked the door behind as we stepped out of the room.
"Didn't I tell you how everything is being in the school, right from Mr. Shah to Aradhana". It all was very upsetting. I could not handle more of it"
"So you let yourself into it, right. Oh, God why do you do so. They will charge you with kidnapping charges".
"If I didn't get her out, they would have killed her"
"And why do you say so"
"That man Jack had come to school this night. I heard him talking to Mr. Shah about…..
And I narrated what all I have heard, seen, witnessed.
Ram seemed very thoughtful, "Hmm, this looks to be serious".
"Do you think we should inform police". "Ideally we should but don't now if it will be safe for the girl"
"I fear the same thing"
Tring tring, we were shocked with the phone ringing at this hour. It was 3 in the morning. Unlikely that anyone would call Ram at this time. So was that call for me.
"Hello, yes, who is this, no I don't know anything about it, hmm…., Ok, I will take care"
After he placed the receiver, he said, "It was some one from the school, was inquiring if you were here. He was sounding worried and threatened at the same time. He requested me to take care and call back in case I am informed about your where about. I guess they suspect the girl being with you"
"Oh God, so what should we do now, If they get the girl, don't know what they will do to this poor girl"
"Did you figure out what is the problem with her? Why is this girl as strange as you told me?"
"I didn't get a chance to. But whatever her ailment I think she is going to do great"
"What do you plan to do next; I mean some day they will figure out and get hold of her"
"If her parents don't want her, I will take her with me and I promise I will keep her safe"
"That's great but its not going to be easy"
"I will figure out a way"
"And I will be there, always by your side"
"You are a great friend Ram, can't imagine what would I do without you"
"That is flattering, now can you get some sleep. We will discuss this in the morning. You take the bedroom and I take the couch"
"Have a nice sleep"
On bed I wondered how could they put such an angel in this kind of trouble? She belongs to a rich family yet in an Orphanage. She is a kid meant to be free, but she is being is cage. She has not even tasted life and people want to put an end to it.
I won't let this happen. Not only I will keep her safe but also see to it that culprit are punished.
And I didn't realize when I was fast asleep.
I could hear distant cries, wondered if I was dreaming. I unlocked the door, it was Ram. I rushed towards the room noise kept coming. It was Reema's room.
The scene inside was one I have never dreamt in my wildest dreams. Reema was lying in Ram's arms, dead.
What had happened was not very evident.
Cops came in, enquired, and filed the incident.
Mabel was taken away, charged of murder.
Mr. Shah had broken in at 5am to check where Mabel was. Ram had directed him to Reema's room just to find her dead on bed and Mabel by her side with a brooch. Reema had a brooch mark on her lower neck same as that on Varia, Mabel's younger brother. Don't know how many more….
She had the evil habit of killing people when they were asleep. She had started with killing her younger brother who was just a year old. She hated him for all her parents' attention, and started enjoying it: the mourning and the feeling of victory.
She was sick of doing it over and over again. No one knew the cure so they took precaution of keeping her isolated. Mr. Shah failed to do so when she killed Varia. No one knows how she escaped from her bed where she was tied every night after she was put to sleep. That was the reason why Jack and Mr. Shah wanted to move her out before any one knew.
But I knew it, knew it for wrong. Deep inside I was guilty of killing Reema and taking away all that Ram had, Ram who had given me this life, just to be dead from this time forth.
Now I could figure out when she said; "My brooch, I love it more than anything. I will keep it with me all the time".